New development to help owners monitor osteoarthritic pain in horses

Horse and owner walking along on a grass verge. Osteoarthritis pain in their horses

Researchers in the UK have introduced a straightforward questionnaire to help horse owners identify and monitor signs of osteoarthritis pain in their horses. The development aims to enable earlier and more effective treatment to enhance quality of life and improve athletic function.

Led by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College and University of Edingburgh, the questionnaire is modelled on the Brief Pain Inventory used to evaluate pain severity and its impact on functioning. The team consisted of Dr. Janny de Grauw, Senior Lecturer at The Royal Veterinary College in the UK, Bryony Lancaster, Program Director, MSc Equine Science of the University of Edinburgh and Dr. Diane Howard.

“Horses are another long-lived athletic species, and there is some thought that arthritis studies in horses may also apply to people,” said Dr Diane Howard. “Having a similar instrument could help with that research. The questionnaire can also serve as an objective tool for veterinarians to assess and monitor the adequacy of treatment plans and so determine if changes in a protocol need to be made.”

A preliminary trial of the questionnaire, which involved 25 owners/caretakers of horses diagnosed with arthritis, revealed that 88% of participants found the questionnaire beneficial, while 84% appreciated its simplicity and ease of use.

One significant insight from the study highlighted by Howard is that many horse owners blame themselves for their horse’s arthritis or believe it to be a natural occurrence beyond treatment.

”In general, it’s not the owner or trainer’s fault, and once they realise that, they could be more willing to think, ‘Maybe my horse is hurting a bit, and maybe it’s arthritis,'” Howard said. “There are currently no ways of curing it, but there are certainly ways of controlling the pain and slowing the progress of the disease.”

Signs of osteoarthritis in horses includes pain, stiffness and swelling around a joint, lameness (that can improve and worsen), a change in the duration of warm up – this may need to be extended, decreased performance, a change in joint shape, an unwillingness to work. Horses can develop arthritis at any age, though, as with humans, it is more common in elderly horses due to years of wear and tear. There are four main types of arthritis; osteoarthritis, neck arthritis, infectious arthritis and traumatic arthritis.

Early detection of arthritis is critical in its management to ensure the horse remains comfortable. Horses may remain more comfortable if their weight is managed, appropriate exercise is undertaken, turnout is optimised, and long periods of stabling are avoided to mitigate stiffness.

Veterinary support may be offered, including anti-inflammatory medication, joint supplements, and medicated injections, such as steroids and hyaluronic acid. In some cases, surgery may be recommended to fuse bones in certain areas of the body.

Katie Gilmour is the host of Poles, Piaffe & Prosecco: the podcast for riders that love to train, laugh and drink prosecco! The podcast is free to listen to on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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